Hemel Town earned a crucial three points when hosting East Thurrock last night (Tuesday) to keep their playoff hopes very much alive.
This much-needed win for the Tudors was well deserved, but the game will be remembered for a bizarre but comical decision by referee Dean Hulme in the latter stages of the second-half.
Ex-Arsenal forward Hershel Sanchez Watt had complained about the award of a goal kick after his cross had clearly come off a defender and should have been a corner to the Tudors.
The referee called Watt towards him and looked to have produced a yellow card for dissent but after talking to the player for a short period, the official appeared to be getting frustrated before pulling out a red card and pointing to the dressing room.
Subsequently, it appears that Hulme felt the player was “taking the Mickey” when giving his reply. The conversation went along the lines of: “Name?”. “Watt”. “NAME?”. “Watt” etc.
At this point the flustered official decided to send the player off. A mystified Tudors’ skipper Jordan Parkes came up to ask why he had come to this conclusion before explaining that the player’s name was indeed “Watt”, not that the player was saying ‘what’ and no Mickey-taking had taken place.
To his total credit, Hulme saw the funny side of the incident and reversed his decision, giving Watt a yellow card before trotting over to both benches to explain why he had changed his mind.
Before this farce, Hemel had taken a two-goal lead which should have been four or five before the hour mark.
East Thurrock actually made the brighter start with Hemel keeper Laurie Walker twice having to make smart saves early on.
But Hemel started to find their passing boots and created chances of their own, Striker David Moyo could have given the hosts the lead but his shot was well-blocked by Lukas Lidakevicius in the visitors’ goal.
Lidavekius then saved well from Scotty Shulton and Jordan Parkes but on the half-hour mark, he was finally beaten, although not before he had blocked another Shulton effort. As the netmimder got a leg to the shot, the ball ballooned up into the air to Parkes, who superbly volleyed home the ball as it dropped to him just outside the box.
It was the Tudors’ captain’s 14th goal of the campaign - an excellent tally for a midfielder at any level of the game.
Hemel were by then well on top coming up to the break and Spencer McCall saw another shot saved by Lidakevicius before good work down the right by Dan Spence set up Watt, who calmly controlled the ball before firing it past the helpless Lidavekius to give the hosts a deserved two-goal cushion.
There was still time for a Moyo header to graze the post before the referee called a halt to the first-half, with Hemel in complete control.
The second period saw 13th-placed East Thurrock huff and puff without creating too many opportunities and it was still The Tudors who looked the more dangerous, their slick passing and pace causing problems for Thurrock at the back.
Kyle Connolly and Will Hoskins had chances to extend the lead but each time Lidavekius was there to keep his side in the game.
In the end it was a deserved win for the home side who moved up into fifth place in the National League South standings after gaining these vital three points, only goal difference keeping them out of the top three.
Tudors’ boss Dean Brennan has an almost fully-fit squad to choose from now as the playoff race heats up, with defender Lloyd Doyley expected back on Saturday against ninth-placed Bath City, so things are looking good for the run-in with just ten games to go.
Brennan will be hoping the injury concerns that have caused so many problems this season are now behind them and they can get another three points this weekend against a side who have proved to be a bit of a bogey team in recent years.
Hemel: Laurie Walker, Dan Spence, Kyle Connolly, Jordan Parkes (captain), Darren Ward, Ismail Yakubu (Joe Howe), Matt Saunders, Scotty Shulton (James Kaloczi), David Moyo (Will Hoskins), Hershel Sanchez Watt, Spencer McCall.
Subs not used: Karl Oliyide and Danny Bonness.
Mitch’s man of the match: Spencer McCall.